Can Young Elevate Play Even More?

It's been said, at least partly in jest, that legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith was the only person able to hold Michael Jordan to less than 20 points per game, intimating that Smith's team-oriented style hampered the superstar guard's scoring prowess in college.

So, the general question was posed to Pittsburgh men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon about his sensational senior forward Sam Young, who was third in the Big East with 18.1 points per game, but elevated his play to win the Conference's Tournament MVP award while leading the Panthers to the championship.

"What, do you think I'm holding Sam back,'' Dixon said, smiling from ear to ear.

After the media's laughter died down, Dixon explained that Young's marked improvement last year -- nearly tripled his scoring average and doubled totals in rebounding, steals and assists -- had as much to do with Pitt's injury situation as it was with the player's hard work in the offseason and improved health.

"Sam played almost 40 minutes a game, and his shots were going in,'' Dixon said. "We were running a lot more plays for him, but with Mike Cook and Levance Fields out basically for the entire season we had to go to Sam. ... But he's come back in great shape, much-improved, and he could average even more points per game. But he might not. We'll see.''

While Dixon was as vague as usual, Young was definitive when asked what he did during the offseason to make himself a better player.

"Right now, I believe you'll see a defensive side of me that you never saw before,'' Young said. "Well, you saw it some in the Big East Tournament when I blocked all those shots. But it's just not about blocking so many shots. My on-ball defense, that's going to stand out a lot this year more than what anybody has seen. I really worked very hard on that in the offseason.

"Shooting off the dribble and just dribbling the ball in general is going to be a lot different than what anybody's used to with me. I spent a lot of time and a lot of sweat on my ball-handling drills and shooting off the dribble, so I expect that to really improve. My defense and my ball-handling, those are the two areas I picked to work on the most, so you will see the difference this year.''

And will that translate into a scoring average at more than 20 points per game?

"Right now, I feel like the most important thing is winning,'' Young said. "I was one of the leading scorers in the Big East last year, but that didn't do it for us. So, coming into this year, I look at it a different way. I'm 100 percent healthy and ready to play anywhere and do whatever I need to do.

"If on one night, I have to score 30-35 points, I'll do it. If I need to grab 10 rebounds, I'll do that. And if I need five assists, I can do that, too. So, I'll definitely do whatever I need to do to help us win games, because that's the only important thing right now. It's all about the team in my mind.''

This is what makes Young stand out as much as his athleticism and talent. Just ask teammate DeJuan Blair, the team's outstanding sophomore center.

"Sam's a great player, but he is not selfish,'' Blair said. "He'll get the ball inside to me if things aren't working well for him, instead of forcing it, and that's what I like. But everybody's like that. We all work together.''

Blair might get more room to work inside, since the NCAA moved the 3-point line back a foot from 19 feet, 9 inches to 20-9. But does that concern Young?

"Not even a little bit,'' Young said. "As soon as we found out it was going to be changed, Coach Dixon got a new one put on our court, and we've been shooting with it ever since. And I think we're all just as comfortable with it as before.''

And that should concern the rest of the Big East.

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